The magic of blood: shining light on chemistry, physics and bioengineering

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Biological Sciences


Areas to be coveredThis project aims to promote the role of research funded by EPSRC, particularly that at the Life Science Interface. Three areas will be covered. 1 The initial focus will be on issues relating to the chemistry and physics of blood. Blood is a fluid involved in oxygen transport and host defence against disease. However, its colour and magnetic properties makes it accessible to a wide range of physical techniques. A key story will be the use of the optical properties of blood as a probe in medicine and sport, the purpose of two current EPSRC grants by the PI. Bioengineering the blood itself to make a safer and more long-lasting alternative to blood transfusions / so-called blood substitutes / will also be featured. 2 The use of illegal drugs in sport is a contentious and continually evolving media story. It provides an ideal environment within which basic ideas of chemistry and physics can be communicated to a mass audience. Furthermore EPSRC funds a large number of grants in sports science, partly, but not entirely, in response to the London 2012 Olympics bid. These are fertile ground for the media and I would be interesting in assisting other EPSRC scientists in developments outside my immediate research area, using any contacts I have built up. 3 The environmental pollutant nitric oxide is now known to play a key role in normal bodily functions, as well as disease. Nitric oxide's influence ranges from killing bacteria to controlling penile erections (Viagra acts on the nitric oxide pathway). The PI has research interests in the chemistry and biology of nitric oxide, including developing mathematical and computational models to describe its effects on brain and muscle function. StrategyThe overall strategy will make use of the saleability of sport and medicine to the mass media, using these as Trojan Horses to explain chemical and physical principles underpinning current research. TacticsThe tactics will first be to use current and future book projects (blood, drugs in sport, nitric oxide) to create a profile against which to launch proposals for television and radio documentaries. Especially for TV work, it is key to create evocative visual images and an important part of the project will be filming studies (in chemistry, physics or sport), creating taster tapes that can be used to pitch programs.Further media responses to work already produced will be followed up and I will reactively respond to print media stories in these areas. Because of this, considerable flexibility will be built into the project. So for example if a TV or radio documentary series was commissioned about blood or sports science it would be counter-productive to initiate a book writing project on nitric oxide in that year.


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Description I have been very grateful for the opportunity this fellowship has offered me. I have developed valuable contacts and explored new aspects of public engagement and science communication. Although I have now returned to a "normal" university role, the space provided by the fellowship has embedded public engagement in my career. As I get contacted (nagged!) by journalists on a weekly basis it is unlikely I my career could return to a university teaching/research only mode even if I wanted to. I am particularly grateful for the fact that for three years I could explore new areas of communication with a different range of "publics". I particularly enjoyed and benefitted from a two-week internship at the BBC radio science unit. I was also able to develop an ongoing link with an MP (Stephen Metcalfe) on the House of Commons Science Technology Committee via the Royal Society: MP paring scheme. This has led to me producing and manage a public engagement web site and an ongoing blog that will be vehicles for my future work. Finally I have a suite of ideas as to new areas that I can explore in the future. In the absence of a fellowship these may now be slightly longer in the gestation, but the "space" the fellowship provided to think of science communication has altered my career permanently. I am thankful for the opportunity to have taken part in this innovative and rewarding scheme.
Exploitation Route Not strictly relevant as this was a media fellowship not a research grant
Sectors Chemicals,Education,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description BOOKS The original book suggested in the application was in the area of blood. After bouncing around various publishers, I was commissioned by Oxford University Press to write a book called "Blood: A very short introduction". However, the writing of this took a back seat to another OUP contract that was more time critical - a book on the science of drugs in sport called "Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat". This is the only popular book on drugs in sport that explains the science and crucially, uses that knowledge to inform policy and predict future directions. It has received very favourable reviews, including from Nature, the Sunday Times, the Guardian/Observer, the Independent, The Irish Times and the Boston Globe. More importantly to me, reviewers on really "got" the need to understand the science rather than just opining on policy/morals in a scientific vacuum. I was commissioned to write a number of articles in popular science magazines (The Biochemist) general medical journals (The Lancet) and US political/news web pages (New Republic, Huffington Post. Articles have been written about my work in this area in national newspapers in Greece, Spain and Serbia. DIRECT PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT I had a major role in developing the EPSRC-funded "blood bar" project that ran at the Edinburgh Science Festival and subsequent tours from 2009-2012 and I engaged in debates and public lectures throughout that period (Edinburgh Science Festival, Society of Biology, Physiology Society, Cambridge Science Festival, Oxford Literary Festival, Words on the Water, English Institute of Sport). I was a featured "InMotion" scientist at the National Museum of Scotland and scientific adviser to Speed of Light, part of the Cultural Olympiad. I gave annual talks to A level students (1,000+) at the Institute of Education in London. OLD MEDIA I developed ideas for a BBC Radio 4 Leading Edge program on "Hibernation on intensive care and a spacetrip to Mars", a Radio 4 documentary of the week "Vampire vs. Zombies" and "The science of the perfect sports pitch" on BBC World Service, Science in Action. I was involved in the organisation of Science Media Centre briefings for journalists on artificial blood and drugs in sport I gave interviews on a range of topics to Channel 4 News, BBC Worldwide, Al Jazeera, Associated Press TV, CBC Canada, BBC Worldwide, Dublin City FM, Radio 4 Today program, Newstalk Ireland, BBC Essex, Dream 100 and Sheffield Live! NEW MEDIA As a legacy of my fellowship I developed a web page to communicate my science to the public ( I use blog ( facebook (runswimthrowcheat) and twitter (@profchriscooper) accounts to discuss the science of sports doping. The web page has had over 2,000 hits and the blog has 1,000 hits a month from countries around the world. I developed a public participatory research study "Shining Light on Exercise" at the Edinburgh Science Festival. Over 140 adults and children participated. The accompanying blog ( had over 1,000 hits and the majority of subjects returned to the site to answer a quiz about the underpinning EPSRC-funded
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Creative Economy,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Influenced choice of "Practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips" for a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report on
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Multiple media appearances over the period and post the award 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Too many to describe
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013,2014